- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 7", Weight 171 lb.
Noboru Aota was a 5-time home run king in the 1940s and 1950s in Nippon Pro Baseball.
Aota was signed by the Yomiuri Giants at age 17 out of high school and debuted with a splash, hitting .355/.389/.411 in 42 games as a rookie in 1942. In 1943, the teenager slipped to .223/.272/.291 in regular action, but drove in 42 in 84 games, enough in the low-offense World War II era to tie Akira Noguchi for the Japanese Professional Baseball League lead.
In 1944-1945, Aota served in the Japanese Imperial Air Corps but did not see combat. He reputedly could throw a grenade 70 meters. After the war, Aota signed with Hankyu. In 1946, he hit .294/.329/.409 and stole 21 bases in 27 tries. Aota batted .233/.284/.359 in 1947, still just 22 years old.
Returning to Yomiuri for 1948, Aota surged to bat .306/.332/.499 with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 95 runs and 99 RBI. On October 14, he had 15 total bases, setting a new Japanese record (later broken). He led the JPBL in average (his only batting crown), hits (174) and homers (tied with Tetsuharu Kawakami). The batting race was a tough one as he was .001 ahead of Kazuto Tsuruoka and Makoto Kozuru at year's end. Aota was 9 RBI behind leader Fumio Fujimura to avoid a Triple Crown and was 5 runs behind leader Kazuo Kasahara. His 170 total bases led the circuit. He joined Kaoru Betto and Michinori Tsubouchi as the outfielders on the Best Nine team. Tsuruoka beat him out for MVP honors.
Aota hit .275/.324/.487 in 1949 with 28 doubles, 28 home runs, 93 runs and 102 RBI. He improved to .332/.381/.560 in 1950, hitting a career-best 33 home runs, stealing 29 bases (caught 15 times), scoring 94 runs and driving in a career-high 134. He was 27 RBI behind Kozuru for the Central League lead, though, and 18 home runs off of Kozuru's pace. He joined Kozuru and Yoshiyuki Iwamoto on the first Central League Best Nine outfield.
In 1951, Aota made the first CL All-Star team and hit .312/.378/.582 with 32 homers, 105 RBI and a career-high 101 runs. He stole 22 bases in 30 tries. He led the circuit in runs, homers, total bases (274) and RBI and placed 8th in average. It would be his only time leading in runs and second and last time leading in RBI. Kawakami won MVP honors instead. Aota made the Best Nine alongside fellow outfielders Iwamoto and Masayasu Kaneda. Aota was one of the Yomiuri veterans who helped reach out to Wally Yonamine, the first American to play in Japan following World War II. Aota only went 3 for 22 in the 1951 Japan Series but homered and scored four runs to help Yomiuri win the first of many Japan Series titles.
Once in the early 1950s, Aota bet 500 hundred yen that teammate Shigeru Chiba couldn't hit to left field; Chiba was known to always hit to right. In this instance, Chiba doubled to left. Aota then drove him home and said "I may have lost five hundred yen, but another RBItitle will increase my salary. So five hundred yen is nothing."
Aota struggled in 1952 as the veteran put up a batting line of .260/.323/.433 with only 18 home runs and 79 RBI. He still led Central League outfielders in voting for the All-Star game, with 31,867 votes. He hit .273/.333/.273 with 4 RBI in six games in the 1952 Japan Series, which Yomiuri won.
The Giants figured Aota's glory days were behind him given his off-year in 1952 and his party-hardy life off the field. They traded him to the Taiyo Whales. Aota did not respond well to his new environment, hitting .245/.300/.376 with only 9 home runs in 1953 and seemingly vindicating the trade. He still was voted onto the All-Star team.
In 1954, Aota had a resurgence, batting .294/.344/.542 and going deep 31 times. He led the league with 254 total bases and topped the circuit in slugging for the only time. He also won his third home run crown. Despite his comeback, he did not make the All-Star squad and missed the Best Nine.
Aota hit .268/.321/.467 in 1955, hitting 17 homers and making his 4th All-Star team. In 1956, the Taiyo slugger batted .259/.306/.442 with 25 home runs, most in the CL. His 65 RBI were just four behind league leader Andy Miyamoto in a pitching-dominated period of Japanese baseball. He joined Yonamine and Kenjiro Tamiya as the outfielders on the CL's Best Nine. He also finished second to Yonamine in voting for outfielders for the CL All-Star team.
In 1957, the 32-year-old hit .274/.313/.449 with 22 home runs. He led the league in home runs for the last time and made his last All-Star team. His home run crown did not come easily as he tied Takao Sato and was one ahead of Andy Miyamoto in a race that went down to the wire.
Aota hit .278/.326/.455 in his NPB career, delivering 265 home runs in 6,566 AB and 1,709 games. He drove in 1,034 runs. He retired as Japan's all-time home run leader, a position he held until 1963. Through 2008, he is still 28th all-time in NPB in RBI despite having spent a significant portion of his career in a pitcher-friendly context, missing two years to military service and having wrapped up by age 34.
Off the field, Aota was known to drink a lot and mix with a tough crowd, getting into fights at times.
Aota returned to the field as a manager in 1972, taking over the reigns of the Taiyo Whales from Kaoru Betto when the team was in third. They only went 1-14-2 under him as the club fell into a tailspin. He managed Taiyo for all of 1973; they finished 60-64-6, slightly ahead of the Hiroshima Carp to avoid last place.
His managing career over, Aota became a coach and was with Yomiuri in 1980 when he made a controversial statement in a tabloid that cost him his job.
- Japan Baseball Daily
- Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts
- Remembering Japanese Baseball by Rob Fitts